Some San Jose Catholics Want a Latino Pope

By Stephanie Chuang
|  Friday, Mar 1, 2013  |  Updated 7:48 AM PDT
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Younger generations have been turned off in recent years. Will a new Pope help change that? NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang reports.

Younger generations have been turned off in recent years. Will a new Pope help change that? NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang reports.

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 The first in 600 years - Pope Benedict XVI made modern history as he retired Thursday from papacy. Around the globe and in the Bay Area, the many faithful said their goodbyes at special Mass celebrations. One of those was at St. Joseph Church in downtown San Jose, where hundreds packed the room.

  For some, the focus was already on the next face of the Vatican, including Jose Santivanez, 25, of San Jose. He said he and his wife were two of the very few young Latinos in the crowd Thursday night.
 
 “I don’t see a lot of young people, it’s pretty hard," he said. "We go to different [churches] and everywhere is same thing.”
 
A Gallup Poll released this week shows that’s a nationwide trend among Latino-Americans. In the study conducted from January 2012 to January 2013, findings revealed that with each new generation, the number who identified as “very religious” Catholics declined from 59 percent of those 65 and older, to 33 percent of those 18 to 29. At the same time, Hispanic Protestants remained steady in numbers, with the strongest hold on the youngest age group.
 
Lupita Vital, director of the Hispanic Apostolate with the Diocese of San Jose, said she conducted a study of her own last year that revealed younger generations were leaving the Catholic Church because too often they felt judged.
 
“For instance they [felt if] they are not married, they are not welcome in the church. But many, many times they think that, not us," she said. "Then we need to invite them to come in and explain, talk, start a dialogue.”
 
Others are hoping for something more – a Latino pope.
 
“More Hispanic people [are] going to be proud of it. They’re going to come to church,” said Santivanez.
 
But sisters Gloria and Sylvia Panamo, both of Santa Clara, said that’s the least of their concerns. “I really don’t care about his color or anything as long as he has the right tools, spiritually speaking,” said Gloria. Her sister added, “I feel he has the absolute backing of all Latin America, that’s for sure, and we don’t care if he’s Hispanic. That should not be the important factor.”
 
While not everyone agreed on this, even some local church leaders said a move like that carries the potential of bringing the fresh perspective the church needs now.

“I think it will be helpful for people to be more connected with the pope,” said Father Walter Suarez of Sacred Heart in San Jose. “And it could also help the church so someone who was raised in Latin America or a third-world country can see things in a different way. That can help the whole church to grow.”
 

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